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Brown's alma mater told to 'try harder'

Gordon Brown has often quoted the "inspirational" motto of his alma mater, Kirkcaldy High - Usque conabor or "I will try my utmost". He even referred to it just after becoming Prime Minister.

However, a newly-published HMIE report into the school's performance would suggest "must try harder" might be more apt. A report published this week, following up a poor report in 2006, found that the Fife secondary had gone from bad to worse.

Levels of attainment at Kirkcaldy High, already deemed by inspectors to be too low, had by November last year declined further. Inspectors also found "too many lessons lacked variety", teachers felt enthusiasm for learning had decreased, and both staff and pupils had "major concerns" about behaviour.

When the senior management team had tried to tackle issues such as behaviour management and learning and teaching, their efforts had been "adversely" affected by high rates of staff turnover and sickness.

A "significant proportion" of teachers had left the school and vacancies were not always filled promptly, the report said. Last year, most teachers had been on sick leave at some point, several for extended periods.

The report added: "This challenging situation, combined with the difficulty of obtaining suitable supply teachers, resulted in senior managers having to spend a significant amount of their time covering for absent colleagues. This had restricted their capacity to fulfil important aspect of their management responsibilities."

HMIE concluded that overall progress on the four main targets identified in the 2006 report - improving the curriculum; raising pupils' and staff's expectations of performance and improving levels of attainment; improving teaching approaches so that pupils are fully engaged; and developing and implementing more effective approaches for self-evaluation - had been "weak".

Fife Council, however, claimed to have taken "swift" and "decisive" action in response to HMIE's findings, with Lindsay Roy, previously headteacher at Inverkeithing, brought in to replace outgoing head Gwen Kinghorn.

Mr Roy, who arrived at Kirkcaldy High four weeks ago, claimed there had already been improvements in behaviour, staff morale and attainment in S1 and S2.

"An inspection is like a car MOT; some things need to be done but the rest of the car is fine. We are going to focus on the things that need to be addressed. Up until now, the pace of change has not been fast enough."

Mr Roy's three priorities are: behaviour management, effective learning and teaching, and attainment. He said he was also optimistic that the school's new status as a School of Ambition would "help us transform the school and restore its reputation".

The school motto, he concluded, would continue to be a source of inspiration for staff and pupils, just as it has been for Mr Brown.

"In school, we have been using 'only your best will do' as a means of trying to motivate and inspire the youngsters," continued Mr Roy. "The school motto remains something steadfast in the school and is part of the core objectives."

Ken Greer, Fife's executive director of education, said: "It is clear that decisive action was required in response to the inspectors' findings. The council has acted swiftly to ensure that the required improvements are made.

"Lindsay is one of Scotland's leading headteachers. In a recent inspection, his own work and leadership were identified as 'excellent'. He will work closely with senior manager Craig Munro, addressing the inspectors' agenda."

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